England’s Lionesses will come home not as world champion, but as full-blown footballing celebrities in Britain. The TV audience for the semi-final against USA proves just that. A remarkable and record-breaking 11.7m people tuned in to see if Phil Neville’s side could make the World Cup final and although they came up just short, they have inspired a whole generation of young girls.
Ellen White’s iconic goggles celebration has been repeated in living rooms around the country and women’s football is truly here to stay. The Lionesses may not have got their hands on the treasured prize this summer but success is coming - across all age ranges and genders for England.
Much of England’s success can be traced back to St Georges’ Park, which opened in 2012. It is an elite, world-class facility and is now the heartbeat of the national set-up, where training methods are perfected and squads are honed for those all-important major tournaments.
The noticeable things about England across all tournaments is that they have a definitive and distinctive playing style. Playing out from the back and keeping possession may not be to everybody’s taste but it is attractive to watch and gives England a clear objective.
As we saw with the men’s first team in the Nations League, Gareth Southgate sticks by these principles voraciously. John Stones was guilty of making an error that led to a goal that ultimately knocked England out of the tournament but despite that, Southgate stuck by these principles. At the time he said: “I'm asking them to play in a way that puts them under huge pressure at the back. If we didn't play that way, we wouldn't have got to the semi-finals we've got to, and we would never progress to being a top team.”
For football fans it has been refreshing to see England’s progression over the past few years. Since the infamous defeat against Iceland at Euro 2016, the Three Lions have been rebuilding and the appointment of Gareth Southgate has been an inspirational one, simply in terms of giving the national side an identity and filling the squad with youthful exuberance.
Neville must also be given credit for his work with the women’s team after taking over the role last year. Former boss Mark Sampson left the job in controversial circumstances but Neville has also implemented this same possession-based style of play.
Attention now turns to next summer and Euro 2020, a tournament that is being held all over the continent, with the final at Wembley. England will go into the tournament as one of the favourites. World Cup winners France will be difficult to beat but the Three Lions have a blueprint for success.
For the Lionesses, the European Championships on home soil in 2021 will be a real chance to win their first major trophy. The interest in the women’s game is only going to continue to grow and from what we have seen this summer, Neville looks capable of taking this squad forward.
It may have more semi-final heartbreak for England but things are still heading in the right direction, across the board. Keep the faith - it’s coming home.